Andi Egbert, Minnesota Compass
Ahh, summer. We hate to see you go. But for those of us who care about educational equity, maybe we shouldn’t be so sad. A recent article in Time magazine made the case that summer itself is a culprit in the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students, often between white students and students of color. Because access to quality educational activities during summer months is highly unequal, those kids with little or no access experience “summer learning slide,” like an athlete who doesn’t practice for months. One study found that this phenomenon accounted for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap between income groups by 9th grade.
What does this mean for Minnesota? Minnesota’s teachers and students have been reunited in their classrooms and are getting down to business raising achievement and closing gaps. However, I think it’s time the rest of us community members also sharpen our collective pencil and get down to work thinking about how we can support learning that happens outside of the classroom, such as tutoring, mentoring, and creating or supporting quality afterschool programs.
After investigating the 2010 results for 3rd grade reading and 11th grade math scores on the state’s MCA-II exams, I can say that the kids represented by those figures warrant our action, especially the growing group on the wrong side of the achievement gap.
2010 MCA-II results
This year, reading proficiency among Minnesota’s 3rd graders fell 2 percentage points, continuing a five-year slide for all students. Last year’s promising bump in proficiency for students of color was more than eliminated by a disappointing drop in 2010 to only 56 percent proficient – the lowest rating in the five years of the test. Statewide, just above half of our American Indian, Black, and Hispanic 3rd grade students were reading at grade level when the exam was given last April, with the share of these kids who could do so generally trending downward.
We created a new pie graph that shows all four possible levels of achievement on the 3rd grade reading exam. The 8,000 kids who comprise the red slice represent a clear crisis. That’s how many 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds for whom reading is still out of reach, with research being quite clear that the odds are stacking up against the likelihood of them graduating from high school and walking into a successful adulthood.
Meanwhile, 11th grade math proficiency edged upwards to 43 percent, with some progress for most groups of juniors. Yet a five-year perspective reveals that both the race gap and the income gap in math skills are widening. While poorer students and students of color are doing better, their higher-income and white peers are doing better faster. And so the gaps grow.
The good news is, that’s not the story everywhere in Minnesota. So who is raising the floor under low-income students while also raising the roof for everyone? Among public districts, 36 primary school districts and 12 charter schools helped 90 percent or more of its 3rd graders clear that reading proficiency bar. But when we apply an income lens, acknowledging the steeper challenge faced by districts with high concentrations of low-income kids, a handful of excellent performers emerge.
Looking only at schools where 4 out of 5 or more of the 3rd graders received free or reduced-price lunch (FRL), three primary school districts and three charter schools beat the statewide average in 2010. Kudos to these excellent cocoons of learning and to their students who are devouring new sentences:
Hats off also to these low-income districts, whose 3rd graders made a strong showing: McGregor district (74% proficient), Higher Ground Academy (74% proficient), Global Academy (72% proficient), Cedar Riverside Community School (69% proficient), Hiawatha Leadership Academy (68% proficient) and Naytahwaush Community School (67% proficient).
In just 10 years Minnesota’s 65+ population is expected to eclipse the school-age population, for the first time in our state’s history. That means we’re going to need every last one of our state’s students to fuel our workforce. Considering that imperative, let’s all think how we could work to buttress the good works of teachers and schools across the state—both during school and during all the other times when we encounter kids. Even though the bell rings and the backpacks go on, learning can still be in session.